Our situation is not quite so stark, but it is analogous. Longstanding American institutions ranging from the First Amendment to the Electoral College to the Senate have been suddenly and rashly declared “illegitimate.” Why? Because, at the moment, they are keeping the Left from getting what it wants. The Left wants to silence certain right-wing critics and dissidents, and the First Amendment stops them. The Senate and the Electoral College perform their intended constitutional role in protecting the interests of the less-populous states and their residents, ensuring the protecting of minority interests from the tyranny of the majority. This annoys the would-be tyrants. (They are, to their discredit, unable to truly appreciate that political tides turn, and that majorities are fickle things.) The ordinary political processes of the United States have produced results that the Left does not like, and, hence, those processes and the institutions that enable them must be considered illegitimate. The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is to be understood as a national emergency because . . . Democrats would prefer to have somebody else, and they believe they having something like a divine right to rule.
At that level, this is about something other than politics per se. I have spent about 30 years covering political protests of various kinds, and, of course, people rarely show up at a protest because they are happy about something. But many of the people one encounters at such events (from Occupy Wall Street to the tea-party rallies) are categorically unhappy, bereft and adrift in a way that is only tangentially related to politics. They turn to politics to provide a sense of meaning that might once have been provided by family or religion, two anchors from which many of us enlightened moderns have cut ourselves away. But politics provides a sense of meaning only when we convince ourselves that there is a great deal at stake. I do not know how many planning-and-zoning meetings I have been to, how many suburban school-board meetings and small-town municipal board meetings. Rarely does one get the sense that there is much that is urgent going on. They are boring, and, generally, free of drama. (Not always. A visit with the San Bernardino, Calif., city leadership will cause one to despair for democracy.) That isn’t very much compared to communing with God or being a father. The people who fall into politics as a source of personal meaning must believe that what’s at stake is . . . everything . . . or at least something meaningful, otherwise — well, that’s obvious enough. Political fanaticism is not rooted in ideology. It is the hollow clanging sound that social life makes when banging up against an empty soul.